Mission

FATHER SERRA STATUE

Circa 1914

Erected in 1913 and dedicated in 1914 to Father Junipero Serra, first Father President of the California Missions, this cast concrete statue has become a prominent feature of Mission San Juan Capistrano.  Symbolic of Father Serra’s missionary devotions of guiding the Native Americans toward Christian beliefs and European ideals, the statue portrays a Franciscan friar pivoting a young Native American boy towards his skyward pointing hand and a large crucifix.

A lesser-known fact about the statue is that the Artist John Van Rennselaer used Father Saint John O’Sullivan and Clarence Mendelson, a local resident, to pose for the sculpture. 

This circa 1914 photo above shows the statue soon after its installation. 
Image courtesy of the San Juan Capistrano Historical Society.

 

Statue 2008

Over the last 95 years, the statue has undergone many changes; including three relocations, two undocumented restorations, and the erosive effects of weather.  Relocation prior to 1928 promoted the loss of the large cross that accompanied the figures and the bow held by the Native American boy (currently replaced with a walking stick).  With the loss of these elements, symbolic context was lost too

A photo of the statue in 2008 situated on the base constructed in 1930s.  

 

Figural Elements

Past restorations, involved resurfacing the figural element with various materials such as hard plaster, cement, and paint base coatings in order to fill gaps, cracks, and to seal the porous surface of the statue. 

By 2008, the most recent 1994 restoration was in an advanced state of failure and large losses in the chalky paint coating were visibly detracting from the aesthetics of the statue.  It became clear that the statue would need to be restored.   

The close-up image above of the figural elements shows the chalky, dull finishing of the paint with large areas of loss.  

 

Statue Before Treatment

By the end of 2008, efforts to restore this iconic statue began.  The main treatment goal of the restoration was to remove all coatings and reveal the original, buff-colored concrete surface.  

Above, an image of the statue before treatment.

 

During-Treatment Photo

All surfaces coatings from previous restorations were mechanically removed by hand with the aid of a proprietary paint stripper, metal scrappers, and synthetic abrasive pads and brushes.

In this during-treatment photo above, Museum Assistant, Christine Shook, is scrapping off softened paint from the surface of the statue.

 

Dental Tools

In areas where paint was entrenched, dental tools had to be used to remove it, as seen here in the image of the little boy’s face.

During Treatment  

Father Figure During Treatment

To the left, the face of the father figure has had much of the resurfacing material removed to reveal the original tonality and texture of the surface. Once cleaned, the statue’s left ear was revealed to be a recast made out of a highly visible and distracting white epoxy.  

Cementitious repairs were also uncovered on the boy’s legs, the priest’s entire right forearm and hand, and feet.

Above, the face of the father during treatment.  Areas of patchy discoloration denote where paint still clings to the surface. 

 

During Treatment

Another area that was remade was the arm of the boy.  It appears that during one of the relocations the arm and accompanying bow broke away from the statue.

During the statue’s 1995 restoration these losses were addressed by using a white, epoxy-based material to restore the boy’s arm and produce a walking stick. Click here

During Treatment

 

Treatment

Once all paint and resurfacing materials had been removed, cracks and repairs within the concrete became visible.  Most of these were superficial and the result of the concrete curing; however, several prominent cracks were the consequence of relocation.

Part of the treatment for the sculpture focused on the filling of these fissures for aesthetics purposes and to exclude water from penetrating the sculpture. 

In the photo above, the Museum Assistant is injecting a micro grout into a crack in the shoulder of the padre. 

 

Repaired Areas

With no paint to conceal the bright, white color of the repaired and remade areas, a way to conceal these needed to be devised.

For these repaired areas, a conservation grade cementitious mortar was pigmented and locally applied to conceal these fills.  The mortar introduced a textural aspect that match well with the surrounding surfaces.           

In the photo above, the Museum Conservator is applying a pigmented mortar to the surface of the remade arm.   

 

After Treatment

With the loss of the original cross, much of the context of the statue was lost too.  As part of the restoration, Griswold Conservation Associates was commissioned to replicate the original cross to return context to the statue.  The new cross was mounted to the back of the base to avoid placing undue stress on the figural element.          

After Treatment

 

After Treatment

Above an after-treatment image of the entire statue with the newly installed cross.

 



 



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Mission San Juan Capistrano Preservation Funds
26801 Ortega Hwy
San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675

For questions, please call Barb Beier at (949) 234-1323 or email bbeier@missionsjc.com
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